Tucked away around the back of Oxford’s Walton Street is the delightful Art Jericho gallery where a visual treat awaits the curious trek-cyclist, art-lover, flâneur, passer-by or Port Meadow pilgrim. An exhibition by Andrew Walton celebrating the Thames riverside from Jericho to Wolvercote.
There are watercolours and oil paintings by Andrew Walton and poems by David Attwooll singing the praises of Port Meadow, Oxford’s ancient pasture lands beside the River Thames.
The exhibition is called Ground Work – ‘the result of twelve monthly walks on Port Meadow and Wolvercote Common, an area of uncultivated floodplain between the city of Oxford and the Thames’.
A fascinating collection, constellation and installation of excavated, deciphered and reciphered images.
These are archaeological colour field paintings, bush paintings, x-ray landscape paintings, souvenirs.
A short visit is not enough, you need to be in residence here for a few days or more to absorb it all.
David Attwooll’s poems are also displayed in the exhibition, on the walls and in this newly published book, Ground Work: Twelve Walks with illustrations by Andrew Walton.
A display case turned cabinet of curiosities containing sketchbooks and notebooks, objets trouvés, mementoes, inspirational evidence and The Museum of Everything.
I stay until the gallery fills with more visitors and on the way out there’s a wall of press cuttings, a few from The Oxford Times. It’s good they’re spreading the word of what is clearly a popular exhibition.
Down Walton Street I turn left into Walton Well Road (lots of Walton influence hereabouts, there’s also Walton Crescent, but the moon comes later) which leads me to the hallowed grounds of Port Meadow.
I hadn’t expected so many horses. There are common grazing rights on Port Meadow but the floods have reduced the available pasture so that the horses are forced to congregate in a smaller area.
This is not the riverbank but a track across the meadow, though now it seems more like a breakwater.
At the water’s edge I realised I was standing on an old municipal dump; glass and pottery shards appeared from under the ground like flotsam and jetsam washed ashore on an inland beach.
Across the floodwater on the northern horizon lies Wolvercote. The satellite view from Wikimapia showed a patchwork square of allotments on Wolvercote Common, though now probably submerged.
Last night we had the first frost of winter;
today a brisk wind, and low clear light
strikes dwarf sheds, miniature espalier;
at three o’clock a parade of freight
carriages tick by, in toybox colours.
Last year, placed in the heart of the maze
of beds that overturn a graveyard logic
(each patch a story, paragraph, phrase),
in a cleared thicket of bramble and plastic,
new flat-topped hives, pulsing with bees.
Seventy years ago, wartime put
this turned-over island of rectangular plots
smack in the bullseye of soggy pasture,
a ramshackle commonwealth, divided lots
for what you drive in with the sole of your foot.
Surviving from the war before, the Target squats
in a muddy pool, a concrete oratory
bombed by biplanes, scarred and flat-topped
outpost guarding the Common’s boundary
moat, Shiplake Ditch, at six o’clock.
© David Attwooll 2014
Walking around taking photos is one thing but exploring the terrain with drawings, taking notes, devising shorthand, translating signs, interpreting evidence, doing the ground work is a labour of love.
Whilst I was in Oxford I called in to see Andrew at home and he showed me these two large paintings on paper. They seem like overviews of Port Meadow, but surprisingly not included in the exhibition.
Ground Work: Twelve Monthly Walks Across Port Meadow
continues at Art Jericho, 6 King Street, Oxford until 23 February 2014.